Face of a nation: the life of Barbara Walters

When sitting down at any time of the day to catch up on television, there is bound to be a talk show on at least one channel. These shows are an excellent source of entertainment and news coverage as they often interview the spectacular and the wonderful, as well as keeping viewers up to date with current events in a more upbeat and fun-filled way than news programmes. There are often special guests to help draw in viewers, but if the host isn’t right, the numbers will soon dwindle. Talk shows that have managed to become legends in their own right include ‘The Ellen Degeneres Show’, ‘The Tonight Show’, and all versions of ‘The Late Show’. However, there is one show that has something that others are missing out on.


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That show is ‘The View’! Seeing a number of women all from different upbringings and backgrounds come together to discuss the day’s topics and interview some incredible guests really is one show that knows how to keep the audience wanting more. But behind this show, there is one driving force that has powered it to the legendary status it now has. Barbara Walters. With over six decades of experience behind her, Barbara Walters has had plenty of practice at how to ace an interview.

So how was it that Barbara Walters managed to get herself such a reputation for legendary interviews over the years? Plenty lies behind the former journalist and host, including her fight for women on television everywhere and her ability to get even the most precious of stories that the public is dying to know out of celebrities. Life for Barbara Walters wasn’t always an easy one though after her unsettled upbringing, but her climb through her career proves just what hard work can lead to in the end.

The early years

Barbara Jill Walters was born on September 25, 1929, to parents Louis and Dena Walters. The couple had two other children between them, named Burton and Jacqueline. Walters’ father was a nightclub owner that opened and ran successful clubs in New York, as well as producing Broadway productions, and working as the director of entertainment for a casino and hotel in Las Vegas. His career choices saw that Walters had a colorful upbringing with plenty to keep her entertained during childhood.

Down and out

Although Louis Walters was incredibly successful at what he did, he also managed to lose out big time on several occasions while Walters was growing up. Working as an agent to book talent meant that some months the income of the family would fluctuate from raking it in, to struggling to afford their home. Walters was lucky enough to join her father on some occasions when he was with the dancers and actors in the shows who all made a fuss of the young Walters.

Not all glory

Even though business would average out, after some tough times Walters’ dad ended up losing the nightclubs he owned as well as one of their homes. The family was forced to move to Miami, Florida, meaning there was a change of schools for the children as well as an adjustment from life in The Big Apple to life in The Sunshine State. The family’s new home and all its possessions ended up being repossessed, which forced another relocation back to New York where the family would finally settle.

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Plenty of roles

Walters was able to find work immediately after graduation from college in 1951. Walters could use her bachelor’s degree in English while working in the city where she found jobs within the network NBC. Here she was writing the press releases for the network, working on a short children’s television programme, and moved onto roles in producing. However, Walters was forced to leave her job as her boss was putting on pressure for the two to marry; even going as far as to fight her boyfriend at the time.

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Changing networks

After having to leave NBC Walters was able to find work as a writer quickly once she had decided to work for the CBS network instead. Walters was a key writer for ‘The Morning Show’ during 1955, but it still gave the young writer a chance to enjoy her free time as she was also married the same year. Barbara Walters and Robert Henry Katz were wed in June 1955, but it was reported to be annulled less than a year later.

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A familiar face

Work for CBS was going well for Walters until she had an offer she just couldn’t refuse that would mean going back to NBC. She was offered the job to write and research for ‘The Today Show’ in 1961, but it wouldn’t be long before Walters was climbing her way up the career ladder. Walters worked hard on her stories that were designed to attract a female audience which paid off as she was finally able to get the promotion to ‘Today Girl’.

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Here today, gone tomorrow

Working as a Today Girl was something that Barbara Walters didn’t find satisfying enough. She spoke of how she felt in injustice for women in the workplace, but due to the time period, it was something that was the norm. Desperate to be a reporter, Walters kept working hard and eventually got her big break when she was able to travel with First Lady at the time, Jacqueline Kennedy, as she visited Pakistan and India. The report was a huge success and got Walters some much-earned recognition!

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Second time around

One day before her second marriage to Lee Guber in December 1963, Walters had another man after her heart. A former boyfriend from her college days proposed to the young journalist, but she rejected his offer and went on to marry her fiancé. While the news of rejection may have been heartbreaking at the time, her previous boyfriend remained a family friend for many years and helped the family through legal issues, such as her father’s arrest for missing a court date.

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Incredible co-host

Following the report that got Walters a considerable following from the audience, the network decided that she had earned the title of co-host and wanted Barbara to work alongside Hugh Downs. There was a good relationship between the two, but Frank McGee replaced Downs and began to cause issues on the show. McGee started to refuse interviews he would have to share with Walters if he wasn’t given the first questions to ask the guest, as well as refusing to admit she was a co-host.

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Adoption

During 1968 Barbara Walters and her then-husband Lee Guber adopted their first and only child, a daughter they named Jacqueline Dena Guber after Walters’ mother and sister. Jacqueline was Walters’ only child. Lee and Barbara, unfortunately, ended up filing for divorce in 1976 after 13 years of being married. Walters spent the next few years focusing on her daughter and family, as well as her growing career, rather than using the time to look for love.

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Feet under the table

While co-hosting ‘The Today Show’, Barbara Walters quickly became a name known in every household across the nation as she was praised for her calm but often probing interview style that had got her so famous. Her role as host won her an Emmy Award for her skills and made her a wanted lady by plenty of other networks for their shows. In 1976, ABC was the new network that was after the reporter offering a salary of $1 million a year that Walters just couldn’t refuse.

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The unfriendly atmosphere

ABC couldn’t wait to promote their newest host, and Walters found herself as co-host for the network’s evening reporting of the news, alongside being the first woman that had hosted a news programme in the evening for any network. The position didn’t sit well with Harry Reasoner as he didn’t want to share the limelight with anyone else, which caused a problematic relationship between the two while on the show. The pair only ended up working together for two years before Walters was let go by the network.

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Interviewing skills

Barbara Walters began to practice her interviewing techniques during her time working on the show by asking out of the blue questions and getting answers on subjects everyone in the public was desperate to hear. The type of interviews Walters would give made her incredibly popular to watch, but also made her highly unpopular with her male co-workers. They didn’t like the fact that she was becoming so famous even though she didn’t have any qualifications. They also implied Walters was just used by the network to bring in viewers.

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20/20 success

Even though ABC had asked Walters to step down from their evening news programme the network didn’t want to lose her completely. She was offered a role on their other news television show ‘20/20’ in 1979 where she was hired as a correspondent. The role was a huge success, and within a year Barbara Walters managed to tie down President Richard Nixon for the first televised interview since he had resigned in the ‘70s. The success of the interview meant that Walters was then made a permanent feature on the show.

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A good go at things

Merv Adelson and Barbara Walters were married (for the first time) in 1981, but the relationship didn’t last long as they were divorced just three years later in 1984. Thinking that they could give things a second go, the couple remarried again in 1986, and even though the relationship lasted twice the length as the first marriage, it was sadly not meant to be. The couple divorced for the final time in 1992. Her marriage to Adelson was Walters’ last wedding.

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Many famous interviews

Walters’ has had plenty of memorable interviews while working on the show, including political interviews with world leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Margaret Thatcher, and Fidel Castro. She has also interviewed a large number of influential faces, such as Michael Jackson, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Katharine Hepburn too. Walters admits the interview that gave most inspiration to the nation was with a deaf-blind man named Robert Smithdas as he inspired individuals like himself on how to live their lives as fully as possible.

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Most watched interview

Barbara Walters’ most watched interview was with Monica Lewinsky that saw the episode bring in over 70 million viewers. The episode was the highest-rated news programme ever. The audience was not left disappointed either as Walters asked daring questions about the former intern’s prospects in addition to questioning how she would tell her future family what she did. The interview ended with a bang as Walters delivered a one-liner about how much of an understatement it was that Lewinsky would tell her family she made a mistake.

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A new view on life

The success of her interviews with 20/20 meant that Barbara Walters was once again a very sought after woman. During August 1997 she premiered the first episode of her new show ‘The View’ that she was helping to produce and host at the same time. The idea behind the programme was to hear different perspectives from the various women hosts on the show as they spoke about relevant news topics, life, careers, family matters, and politics.

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Causing a stir

Walters was known for her intrusive questioning techniques and harsh truths during her interviews, often seeing the stars breaking down as they talk about revealing secrets. The turn of the century was no exception as Barbara Walters found herself interviewing pop legend Ricky Martin about his sexuality. Walters was pushing for an answer to the question of whether he was a member of the LGBT community, but the singer refused to answer. It has later been rumored that the interview was what caused his career to end.

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Secrets to keep

On ‘The View’ Walters was joined by Star Jones as one of the co-hosts for the show. Jones ended up undergoing a gastric bypass while she was still featuring on the show, but asked her fellow hosts to keep the surgery a secret. Walters went on to speak about how she didn’t expect to have to lie for the host but didn’t want to cause any issues. Walters added how she felt she was deceiving the public after Jones claimed her weight loss was due to healthy eating and exercise.

A troublemaker

It wasn’t until four years later, after Jones had left the show, that the truth emerged behind her surgery. Walters went as far as to accuse Jones of using her time on the show to get given services for free as she was due to get married to her fiancé at the time. The wedding and Jones began to take over the media, and her contract was not renewed, but it didn’t appear that Barbara was sad to see her go!

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Trouble with the President

Following on from the departure of Star Jones her replacement Rosie O’Donnell rocked the boat of the show too. During an episode, O’Donnell had made remarks about the current President of the United States that caused him to nearly sue the company. Walters was dispatched to talk directly to the President to calm the waters, but Rosie O’Donnell accused Barbara of not defending her when she should have. The two women have reportedly begun to get along better nowadays following on from their falling out.

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Total control

While Walters still appeared as a regular co-host on the show, she had some overwhelming control of what happened during the running of it all. When President Obama was on the show, Barbara Walters personally went through and amended all of the questions that were written to be asked. Having so many years of interviewing practice behind her, it only seemed fitting that Barbara got to make sure that everything was up to presidential standard!

Winding down

Walters began to wind down her career in the early 2000s as she decided to retire from her role on ‘20/20’ after a quarter of a century hosting her gossip-filled interviews. Walters did confirm that she would still be working as one of the hosts on ‘The View’ and for other ABC projects, but just wouldn’t be taking on as much work due to being 75 years old at the time. Winding down for an easier life was now Barbara Walters’ main priority.

Health scare

During May 2010 Walters made an announcement that she would have to receive open heart surgery to have a faulty valve in her heart replaced. The journalist was 80 years old when she found herself having to go under the knife. However, the surgery was announced to be a success as Walters’ heart was confirmed to be working regularly again. Barbara incredibly ended up going back to work after the surgery, even with constant media coverage that the public was concerned for her health.

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Alluding to a retirement

A few years after the surgery in 2013, Barbara Walters was under constant questioning as to whether she would be retiring from television. Not used to being on the other side of the interview for a change, Walters was trying to dodge the question before releasing the statement that she would confirm her retirement when she was ready. Less than two months later and Barbara had, indeed, confirmed that she would be officially retiring the following year.

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Wrapping up the show

In her final year of being on the show, Barbara Walters began to wind down her interviews and discussions not wishing to cause too much of a scene so close to retirement. Corey Feldman was of the guests featured on the show when he came on to talk about the underside of Hollywood and the actions the public didn’t see happen. Walters’ final episode featured past guests taking part in a special episode looking back over Barbara’s time on ‘The View’.

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Can’t resist

Even though Walters had officially retired in May 2014, she couldn’t help but return for some one-off episodes of ‘20/20’ where she could interview the President and his wife, and Mary Kay Letourneau. Alongside the special shows, Walters also appeared as a guest host on her show ‘The View’ now and then to make sure her former baby was continuing as she had previously hoped. The show has received criticism over comments made by the new hosts but still continues to date.

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Health in the media

Barbara Walters is currently 88 years old and remains in the news over concerns the media has had for her health continue to circulate. The reports state that Walters has aged quickly in recent years, as well as showing worrying signs of forgetfulness. However, her close friend Cindi Berger has publicly spoken of how the former host is perfectly healthy, and there should be no concerns for her. Barbara has yet to comment on her health status.

Old topics coming to light

Barbara Walters has also been receiving some criticism in the media lately following the case brought against Harvey Weinstein. When interviewing Corey Feldman, he admitted that similar incidents had happened to him, and his good friend Corey Haim, but Barbara was recorded as saying that Feldman was bringing the industry’s good name down with his statements. Footage of the interview has emerged on social media, and it isn’t looking good for the former host’s reputation.

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Flirting with Clint

Walters previously admitted that she had a crush on the award-winning actor and director Clint Eastwood. During an interview with him in the 1980s, Walters spoke with Eastwood about his various relationships with women and compared herself to his companions, saying “You would drive me nuts and I would drive you crazy because I would be saying, ‘But didn’t you, or haven’t you, or haven’t you…?’”.

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His proposal

The actor then began flirting with her, saying “Well, we could try it and see if it worked out.” The flattered Walters jokingly answered, “We’ll start with this interview, if this is okay, and we’ll get somewhere, well, maybe we’ll do another interview. … I think we’ll stop and reload.” She later revealed that Eastwood asked her out on a date after the interview was done. Walters rejected him but mentioned that she will later regret that decision.

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Her biggest regret

However, the award-winning journalist said that her biggest regret was not spending enough time with her daughter, Jackie. “I was so busy with a career. It’s the age-old problem,” she said and later added “And, you know, on your deathbed, are you going to say, ‘I wish I spent more time in the office?’ No. You’ll say, ‘I wish I spent more time with my family,’ and I do feel that way. I wish I had spent more time with my Jackie.”

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